Radical Librarianship: how ninja librarians are ensuring patrons' electronic privacy



Librarians are awesome. Literally awesome, sometimes.


Still looking for https on boingboing.net.


You know, I think a time traveling terminator is just what’s needed to reboot the “Librarians in Bondage” franchise.


Yes! My real-life inspiration! http://www.jenswanndowney.com/the-ninja-librarians.html


I have thought for a long while that there should be attempts to organise crypto parties for libraries (and doctors). Reminders are very often sent in plain text e-mails with titles of books. The books we read, as well as what we read on-line, are very important, and the ability to access this information may be used in any number of undesirable ways by an overbearing surveillance state.

Well done to these guys for taking the threat seriously. Let’s hope this is the first of many such stories.

Nice to see someone standing up. I hope it inspires many others.

“When you know that people are recording what you are doing online or if
you know cops, the FBI, the DEA, or ICE could access your library or
digital history, chances are you are not going to say or research what
you might otherwise. Self-censorship ensues because surveillance chills

I catch myself doing this. Not because there is anything wrong with my intentions or the information I am looking for, but for consideration that it could be misinterpreted as such.


Once you get into a world where self-censorship is normal and expected, you also sink into a ratchet of conformism. People want to divide the world into “us” and “them”, and if “they” get to be too much like “us”, they simply narrow the definition of “us.” Eventually you wind up with a world where people read only bestsellers, listen to only the Top 40, and learn only what’s on the test, for fear that their neighbours will think ill of anything outside the narrowest confines of what is “normal” and “acceptable.”

I might even suppose that giving absolute power to Big Brother is less scary than giving it to Mrs. Grundy.

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Clearly we need to break the permanent role of librarian down into a number of more temporary and thus disinterested McJobs, to prevent would-be librarians from abusing public office to promulgate public good.

The permanent librarian of today’s America can in future be disrupted / replaced / refactored into:

  • The Marketing Officer: Whose role it is to sell information on patron’s reading habits to advertisers, insurers, etc. thus generating bottom line revenue for the library by selling client’s personal data. As well as check-out data, patron recognition cameras will follow the readers around the library, noting books they browse and return to shelves without formally checking out - This is important, because for all we know, terrorists may be writing little notes on scraps of paper and slipping them behind the dust jackets of Teenage Romance novellas. Only by recording and processing who meets whom in a public space, and making this data available to the NSA and thus state and federal police, and select third parties can we be safe from the threat of library-facilitated terrorism, whilst allowing the funneling of public funds marked “library / literacy” into the pockets of DARPA-funded face recognition spin-offs who’ll provide the technology.

  • The Sales and Content Officer: Who will gather income from Publishers - by offering a “buy-out” option for publishers who prefer their work to be unavailable for loan in public libraries, or who want to place extra copies of competitors titles into the library, to undermine their opponents sales figures. The Content Officer’s main role will involve cutting certain chapters out of existing books that have accidentally found their way in entirety into the public library. Through redacting certain paragraphs, dyeing the occasional page black, and installing a URL sticker redirecting the patron to a sponsoring online store, they limit the content available to non-paying customers, who should be buying the book if they want to read the full content.

  • The Re-shelving Technician: (2 nights on / 2 nights off, 6 month fixed term contract) who restocks the shelves with returned books when no-one is present until (s)he can be replaced by a robot that performs the same task - in the interim a convenient way to mask local unemployment figures.

  • The Book Checkout Terminal Engineer: (who is responsible for repairing the machines that interact with the people)

  • The Library Police Armed Whispering Response Operative: (how the aspiring youth gain their MRAP driving license over the summer vacations!) Responsible for maintaining order and silence in the library; armed with OC and CS gas sprays (no coughing please!), plastic ziplok handcuffs, and a combined taser/bean-bag/hollow-point pistol as premiered at the Library Shield trade fair in Oakland this summer - (a triumph of handgun UX/UI development - squeeze short for the taser shot and long for the holow-point during even minutes of the hour, but squeeze long for the taser shots during odd minutes of the hour … or is it the other way round?) Allows plausible deniability for the inevitable occasions when an entire magazine is unloaded into the chest of a reader who reached for the returns desk too quickly or appeared to be making a move for officer’s date stamp and ink pad.

The future’s bright!


Almost ten years after I first heard about the Whatcom Library getting a visit from the FBI I’ve never forgotten it. At the time the FBI’s efforts to keep their probe secret seemed less nefarious (although it certainly could be) and more about keeping law enforcement from looking stupid. It’s good to know librarians are still fighting the good fight.

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Speaking of self censorship here’s an interesting read:Slate:Facebook Wants to Know Why You’re Self-Censoring Your Posts

I immediately suspect facebook (facefarm) of collecting and selling tons of raw demographic and personal data as I type in a provided editor that could conceivably save all my edits.

Best to use notepad while making my edits then copy and paste as I type under my tinfoil helmet.

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No kidding! Well, except for Rand Paul, maybe.

(Alright, alright, don’t make me pull out my Emily Litella voice).

Hey, don’t forget that the anti-surveilance zine is online. Thanks Alison and April for letting the wider world know that librarians have a long history of and continue to work for the public interest. We librarians should be in on those ongoing conversations about online privacy.

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I shared with my local library :smile:

I’m on board. Bring the bondage librarians!

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